Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Trinidad and Tobago observing 47th anniversary of being a republic

Published:Sunday | September 24, 2023 | 11:24 AM
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar. - File Photo

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Trinidad and Tobago is observing the 47th anniversary of republicanism on Sunday with, as expected, the two main political leaders sending contrasting messages to the population.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said that while the twin-island republic faces “many challenges,” it “continues to evolve into a great republic”.

But Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad Bissessar said the celebration this year is significantly marred by the “unprecedented, horrendous crime crisis that has engulfed our once peaceful nation.

“A sense of general fear and unease prevails in the national psyche,” she added.

In his message, Prime Minister Rowley said last week, a Trinidad and Tobago national, Ambassador Dennis Francis, assumed the Presidency of the ongoing 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, saying “this singular honour proves that though we are geographically small we are not insignificant.

“Presiding over the world body, during this period, which analysts have described as “the most fraught and dangerous, since the end of the Cold War”, is expected to be “extremely demanding” for Trinidad and Tobago.

Rowley said also that the government was able to sign a historic, inter-institutional agreement with Venezuela last week “which will promote joint projects in gaseous hydrocarbons in the Dragon field located in that country's territorial water”.

He said Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hailed the agreement, stating that the signatures meant “the strengthening of relations between Venezuela and our Republic, and carried a message of complementarity, solidarity, and shared sovereignty, and, most importantly, peace for the entire Caribbean”.

He said that Trinidad and Tobago has also finalised negotiations with Bp and Shell for exploration and production of natural gas in three deep-water blocks – a frontier development project.

“All patriots must become alert. We must speak out against, those among us, who are bent on lives of crime, and those who will never encourage citizens to accept both their individual and collective, social responsibility,” Rowley said.

He said citizens must also be reminded that every Republic, at its birth, is a creative, political experiment among its citizens for their common good, a work that is continuously in progress. “Along the way, we will be tested sometimes painfully but we are committed to confronting all the demons and overcoming all obstructions however and whenever they come,” Rowley said.

In her message, Persad Bissessar said the current situation in the country “may convince us that we have nothing to celebrate as a nation facing some of its darkest days in our history.

“Yet, Republic Day is perhaps one of the most powerful reminders of the very reason we must, against all odds, fight on as a collective people to continue to build our now threatened democracy.”

She recalled that the country attained Republican status on August 1, 1976, noting “however, the holiday was surreptitiously selected to be celebrated on September 24, thereby commemorating the anniversary of the election of the (ruling People's National Movement) PNM on September 24, 1956.

Persad Bissessar, who served as prime minister from 2010-15, said that  new Independence Constitution “had afforded simply too much executive power to the Prime Minister.

“This had led to significant abuse of power by the Government of the day, resulting in the tumultuous years of social rebellions particularly in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It took continuous and determined fighting to establish democratic principles by the Opposition forces of the day to ensure that our Republican Constitution took effect.

”Therefore, by establishing the Office of the President, a new set of independent checks and balances was intended to be established in our system of government. From Independent Senators, to the Auditor-General, Service Commissions, the then-new institutions of the Integrity Commission and the Ombudsman, and the Joint Select Committees, these were designed to add an additional layer of non-political oversight over the Government, in addition to the official Opposition.”

She said this was to allow the people's interest to prevail in the Republic “and not the politicians.

“However, it still fell short of what was required. Even in 1976, the much more substantial constitutional reforms of the Wooding Commission were rejected by the then PNM Government”. But she noted that in 1995 when the United National Congress (UNC) came into office “we introduced major constitutional reform to advance the interest of the public."

"Under my Prime Ministership from 2010-2015, we further undertook a major Constitutional Reform exercise to bring the whole society on board. We updated the Standing Orders of Parliament for the first time since Independence, introducing new mechanisms such as Prime Minister's Questions,” she said.

She said there were other reforms, adding “we also introduced many other important mechanisms which were in the process of being debated in parliament, such as term limits, fixed election dates, and equal budgetary allocations to each Member of Parliament.

“Unfortunately, these independent institutions and all our significant gains are today once more under direct threat, having been abused by this Government to further partisan political goals."

“Today, I call on the Government to immediately cease its ongoing assault on our citizens and our Constitution. They must immediately recommit to their duty as a democratic government and implement effective policies to grant citizens instant relief from the traumatising economic hardships and crime crisis that continue to plague our land,” the Opposition Leader added.

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